None of this surprises those of us who for decades have watched Gates make career after career out of trimming his sails to the prevailing winds. No one should expect Gates to depart one iota from the position of the President, who said Nov. 28, “I’m not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.” In answering the senators’ questions, Gates insisted that an early pullout would risk “leaving Iraq in chaos [with] dangerous consequences both in the region and globally for many years to come.”
No surprise either in Gates’ strong endorsement of spending billions more on—and prematurely deploying—the missile defense system that was Rumsfeld’s pet project. Even if it can be made to work (and this has yet to be demonstrated), the system is of highly dubious utility in preventing the kinds of terrorist attacks that appear far more likely than a nuclear-tipped missile from a “rogue” state like North Korea or Iran—if they ever succeed in developing one.
Gates lumps the two together, saying, “North Korea and Iran continue to develop longer range missiles and are determined to pursue weapons of mass destruction.” In attributing this intention to Iran, Gates demonstrates that he has lost none of his verve as master-practitioner of what we intelligence alumni call “faith-based intelligence.” Among serious intelligence analysts, especially in the Department of Energy, where the expertise lies, the jury is out on whether Iran is embarked on a weapons-related nuclear program—and, if so, how soon it might have a deliverable nuclear weapon. And the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, also keeps saying existing evidence permits no hard and fast conclusions.
In prejudging that key issue, Gates has elevated the status of Iranian intentions, in Rumsfeldian parlance, from a “known unknown” to a “known known.” In doing so, he has thrown in his lot with the neo-conservatives, whose record of accuracy in such judgments leaves much to be desired, and who—after a pre-election lull—have been revving up for another try at prevailing on the President to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Gates’ position on Iran’s nuclear weapons plans suggests he will not put up much resistance to importuning by Vice President Dick Cheney and the neo-cons—not to mention the Israelis—that Iran’s fledgling nuclear program must be nipped in the bud.
In what is known so far of the information in the completed questionnaire, Gates made one departure from long established White House policy. Very much in tune with the admonishment of his patron Jim Baker that talking directly with adversaries is not “appeasement,” Gates implicitly criticized the opposition to negotiating with the likes of Syria and Iran, stressing that such talks could come “as part of an international conference” of the kind the Baker/Hamilton group is said to be suggesting.
Hadley’s Memo on Maliki
President George W. Bush arrives in Amman on Nov. 29 for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a thick cloud hanging over the meeting. The leaked memo of Nov. 8 by national security adviser Stephen Hadley threatens to scuttle the talks entirely. Among other things, the memo gives the lie to the President’s protestation on Nov. 28 that Iraq is “a sovereign nation.” Maliki’s quisling status is laid bare, and Hadley’s suggestion that the U.S. “consider monetary support to moderate groups” will not go down well with “immoderate” groups raising hell in Baghdad.
Equally clear in the memo is the White House’s continuing separation from reality. For example, under “Steps Maliki Could Take,” Hadley leads the list with:
“Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any [Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence.”
This is in the same league of naïveté as the New York Times'editors’ solemn but lame suggestion on Nov. 29:
“Mr. Maliki needs to give his own deadline to the Americans for launching a truly make-or-break campaign to retake the streets of Baghdad.”
Been there; tried that. Where have the Times’ editors been during the past few months?
There is some irony, if not comic relief, in Hadley’s observation that “the information he [Maliki] receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers.” And so it is in Washington as well. If Gates is confirmed, this will not sweeten the flavor of the self-licking ice cream cone that is the coterie of advisers around our President.